Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress best known for her on-screen horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ wearing a black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation. Her wickedly vampish appearance is offset by her comical character, quirky/quick-witted personality, and valley girl-type speech.
Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Peterson grew up in Randolph, until the town was flooded to create Tuttle Creek Reservoir. Her family then moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. During her teens, Peterson worked as a go-go dancer in a local gay bar. She graduated from General William J. Palmer High School in 1969. Days after graduating, she drove to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she became a showgirl at The Dunes. She had a small role as a showgirl in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, briefly dated Elvis Presley, played a topless dancer in The Working Girls (1974), and purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits's 1976 album, Small Change. However, this story is apparently unverified, as Peterson has since described it as "a giant mystery", claiming that while she has no memory of the event, the picture looks enough like her that she feels "pretty sure" that it is. She is a vegetarian and has appeared in a humorous Halloween-themed ad for PETA promoting a vegetarian diet.
In the early 1970s, she moved to Italy and became the lead singer of the Italian rock band I Latins Ochanats. During this time, she had a chance encounter with director Federico Fellini which led to a small part in Roma (1972). Back in the United States, she toured nightclubs and discos around the country with a musical/comedy act, Mammas Boys. In 1979, she joined the Los Angeles-based improvisational troupe The Groundlings, where she created a valley girl-type character upon whom the Elvira persona is largely based.